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Shields and Brooks Discuss Key Races and Battleground States

November 4, 2008 at 6:45 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, some final words for now from Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Mark, do you have a private key thing you look for early — you’re going to look for early tonight that you can guide your thinking about where this thing’s going to go?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think — it’s not original with me, but I think the two states I’m going to look at most carefully early are Virginia and Indiana. And Indiana has been true-blue red, if there is such a definition.

JIM LEHRER: True-blue red?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s been a red state. I mean, President Bush ran it up, over 21-point margin over John Kerry there in 2004. It’s been solidly Republican. And I just — I just think that the fact that Obama is competitive there, if he were to win Indiana, I think that would be historic in the making of a rather remarkable evening.

And I think Virginia similarly. I mean, Virginia, as both Stu and Amy commented, is a changing state. But it’s a state that does suggest to me that the Democratic Party, which once was the captive of the South and then left the South, was banished from the South after the civil rights movement in 1964, in particular, the Goldwater and Wallace campaigns back to back, and lost its footing there politically, would once again be competitive. And add to that North Carolina.

JIM LEHRER: Well, they’re already — well, Virginia already has a Democratic governor.

MARK SHIELDS: It has a Democratic governor.

JIM LEHRER: One of its two senators is a Democrat, and the other one is leading…

MARK SHIELDS: But all those southern states had Democratic senators and Democratic governors all those years, but they didn’t — there’s a difference at the national, because the national issues were different. That’s where the social issues and the national security issues intruded.

And those Democratic governors have won by being very effective at holding down taxes, in many cases, balancing the budget, being fiscally responsible, and yet being good on education and other issues that matter to the voters of those states.

Several important races

JIM LEHRER: Do you have a magic periscope, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I'd agree with Mark about the presidential level. I think Indiana and Virginia are the two that'll be the early decides.

I just want to mention the Senate races...


DAVID BROOKS: ... because those really are -- they may turn out to be the things that we really pay close attention to, because there are a lot of Senate races that -- and they could determine the strength of the next president's power.

And the ones in North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole is expected to be in trouble. That will be a race to look at. I think in Mississippi there's a race. In Minnesota there's a race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. And so there are a lot of races.

JIM LEHRER: And there's a third party in there...

DAVID BROOKS: And there's a third party who could take it all. Minnesota has been known to do that. And so there are a whole series of races.

The Democrats are going to have a majority, but will they have 53 votes? Will they have 58 votes? Could they even get to 60 votes?

There are all these races throughout the strait which are tied, obviously, to the presidential race, but not tightly. They're tied, but they could go either way. So I think a lot of these Senate races will determine really how the country is governed.

MARK SHIELDS: David's point, it's a good point, because in some of those southern states, I mean, where the Democrats have mounted late challenges, Georgia, Mississippi, in particular, Ronnie Musgrove in Mississippi, the former governor, they are coattails, because they're only doing better.

They've had to run away from the national ticket in the past, but because Obama...

JIM LEHRER: They would never even claim to be Democrats.

MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly right. And because Obama has mounted such serious efforts in those places, he gives, if anything, a boost to the Democrats.

Bush's influence on election

JIM LEHRER: Finally, with just a little over a minute to go, where -- the ghost and the record of George W. Bush, where does that rest tonight, as we go into this election?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I saw in the exit polls he's got a 28 percent approval rating. I happen to think historically that will tend to go up a little. But he's a drag.

You know, there are a lot of political scientists who think, if your party has held the White House for two terms, your odds of getting a third term being the same party are minimal.

And then, if you throw in a 28 percent approval rating, they're 0 percent, no matter how you campaign. I happen to think there's a lot of truth to that, that argument that the fundamentals matter a lot more than the campaign.

JIM LEHRER: The Bush factor?

MARK SHIELDS: Somebody -- and I wish I could attribute it, Jim -- but George Bush came to office as a social conservative and he's leaving as a conservative socialist.

I mean, part of the problem on this job rating is he's confounded and confused so many people, with his base included.

I mean, this is a man who came as a conservative of traditional values, compassionate conservative, working across the aisle, became a rather partisan president, once he had a chance in 2002 after 9/11, and then expanded the role of government exponentially and ran up deficits that we'd never seen before.

So in many respects, it's going to require history to unravel this and somehow to do a revisionist view of George Bush, that this national security position was somehow vindicated or whatever.

JIM LEHRER: But you agree with David that it's -- the Bush factor is a drag on every Republican all up and down the row?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Democrats make a mistake if they view it as an affirmative vote for them in many of these congressional races as much as it truly is a negative vote against President Bush and his party.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree. We haven't seen a shift in the values in this country. We've seen a shift in partisan affiliation because of eight years.

JIM LEHRER: OK, all right. Thank you. We will be talking later.